The Psychology of Counter-Terrorism

The Psychology of Counter-Terrorism

The Psychology of Counter-Terrorism

The Psychology of Counter-Terrorism


This edited book explores how psychology can be used to improve our understanding of terrorism and counterterrorism.

This work firstly aims to provide balanced and objective insight into the psychology of terrorists; what their motivations are, what keeps them involved in terrorist groups, and what eventually forces most to end their active involvement in terrorism. Secondly, the contributors focus on the challenging issue of how to respond to terrorism. These chapters provide information for those concerned with short-term tactical problems (e.g. interviewing), as well as those looking towards the more long-term strategic questions of bringing an entire terrorist campaign to an end. Ultimately, the individuals involved in terrorism require a more complex response from society than simply a quest for their apprehension. Believing inaccurate and misleading characterizations leads inevitably to damaging policies and deficient outcomes and campaigns of violence are needlessly prolonged. It is from this perspective that the concern arises with how researchers - and the policy makers guided by them - perceive the psychology of terrorists and of terrorism.

This innovative book will be of great interest to students of terrorism and counter-terrorism, security studies, psychology and politics, as well as security professionals and military colleges.


1 The psychology of
Critical issues and challenges

Andrew Silke

Terrorism wins only if you respond to it in the way the terrorists want you to; which
means that its fate is in your hands and not in theirs.

Fromkin (1975)

Wars are won when one side breaks the will of the other to fight on. When they capitulate, the defeated almost always still have armies in the field and still have some resources to draw upon. True, these may be greatly diminished compared to what existed at earlier stages of the conflict but it is extraordinarily rare for every soldier to have been slain or imprisoned and every town and city captured before the white flags of surrender are raised. What the vanquished have lost however is the belief that victory is possible or that the cost of the struggle can be borne any further. Victory or defeat then, ultimately boils down to a question of psychology, and terrorist conflicts are no different from other conflicts in this respect.

Indeed, most people understand – even if only instinctively – that there is a special psychological dimension to terrorism that is not always found in other types of violence. Terrorist violence is not simply about physical suffering, it is about making a psychological impact, partly about the creation of a wider sense of terror and partly about winning a psychological battle for hearts and minds. Inevitably, countering terrorism must also grapple with this psychological dimension if it is to be effective. Ignoring the psychology of counter-terrorism is to miss the crux of the problem.

At its core, there is a general acceptance that an act of terrorism is not aimed just at its direct victims but at wider audiences where the perpetrators are expecting and hoping for a diverse range of impacts. Beyond this, there is often fierce controversy over what is and is not an act of terrorism. The word itself was certainly first used to describe the violent repression carried out by a government against its own citizens: the ‘reign of terror’ waged by the government of revolutionary France saw up to 40,000 French citizens butchered in the space of barely a year. The chief architect of the Terror, Maximilien Robespierre, summed up its purpose succinctly:

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